Public markets feeling left out of new Alberta booze rules

New rules allowing Alberta liquor to be sold at farmers’ markets isn’t going down well with everybody. That’s because artisan and farmers' markets are sanctioned to sell Alberta-made craft beer and spirits, but public markets are not.

'It's another salting in the wound already,' public market manager says

Food guidelines at the South Common Farmers' Market are more strict than those applied to Alberta-approved farmers' markets, manager says (Brian Dahl)

New rules allowing Alberta liquor to be sold at farmers' markets isn't going down well with everybody.

That's because artisan and farmers' markets are sanctioned to sell Alberta-made craft beer and spirits, but public markets are not.

"It's not a level playing field," Brian Dahl, owner and manager of the public South Common Farmers' Market, said Thursday. "It's another salting in the wound already."

The policy, announced by Finance Minister Joe Ceci Thursday, applies to more than 125 artisan and farmers' markets approved by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry only. 

Public markets have a diversity of vendors, including crafts, art, food, antiques and garage-sale tables, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission policy states. 

"This policy does not apply to these venues. Liquor sales may not occur in unlicensed venues," AGLC spokesperson Michelle Hynes-Dawson wrote in a statement.

I'd be interested to know their reasons for it.- Christie Anderson, Southwest Edmonton Farmers' Market

"This new rule will exclude us again and give advantage to Alberta-certified farmers' markets for the customers' attention," Dahl said. 

Public markets have to abide by what Dahl considers stiffer regulations in food preparation.

While vendors at farmers' markets can sell goods made in their own kitchens at home, the public markets have to use commercial kitchens to prepare food, adding to the expense.

He thinks the same standard should apply to both operations, including the required health inspections.

"They're very good at what they do," Dahl said, referring to the health inspectors who, he added, make vendors cleaner, safer and more efficient.

A 'no brainer'

Dan Young, a spokesperson for the City Market Downtown on 104th Strreet, said it is common sense to allow brewers and distillers to sell at markets. 

"That's a no-brainer," Young said. 

"We really want to have more people come down and if it draws more people downtown and more people to the market in a responsible way, then we're for it."

He also called the decision "cautious," and said he looks forward to the day when markets can have tables and chairs where people can imbibe openly. 

"We have restaurants that run patios that serve liquor and that's 10 feet from the market," he pointed out. "And we see that being handled responsibly."
South Common Farmers' Market manager says public markets should be able to sell beer and spirits. (Brian Dahl)

Christie Anderson, manager of the Southwest Edmonton Farmers' Market, said she would entertain the idea of having beer vendors.

She said she supports public markets and said it wasn't clear why they wouldn't be included in the new policy.

"I'd be interested to know their reasons for it," Anderson said of the government's decision.

She added that 80 per cent of the products sold at farmers' markets must be made in Alberta, and public markets may not have to follow the same criteria. 

Small brewers go to bat

The Alberta Small Brewers Association lobbied the government to allow liquor to be sold at farmers' and artisan markets.

Terry Rock, the group's executive director, said he welcomes the opportunity for brewers to be next to farmers and vendors to sell their products. 

"What we're most interested in is having one-on-one conversations with people about where their beer comes from," Rock said.

He said a lot of people don't know Alberta has some of the best barley in the world.

"Any time we get to talk to someone about our product, it's a win," he said.

The Alberta finance ministry didn't respond to requests for comment on the exclusion of the public markets in the new rules Thursday.

Dahl maintained the move is biased and unfair.

"They're spending our tax dollars — my tax dollars — to promote Alberta farmers' markets."

For eight years, farmers' markets have been sanctioned to sell wine and mead made on Alberta farms.